Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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September 17, 2012

Winter Wonderland on deck, ready to roll

Festivities will kick off with pageant Nov. 3

ASHLAND — Summer Motion and Poage Landing Days are over, which means the last of Ashland’s “big three” annual events isn’t far off.

The Winter Wonderland of Lights, which draws thousands of visitors from across the state and county every year, kicks off Nov. 3 with a beauty pageant at Verity Middle School. First prize is a $500 college scholarship. Plus, the pageant winner will have the honor of throwing the switch to light the displays at Central Park during the opening night ceremony at 6 p.m. at the park bandstand.

The WWOL program also will include the city’s annual Christmas parade on Nov. 20. This year’s grand marshal will be Bill Jackson, a founding member of Boyd County Emergency Medical Services, who recently retired after 35 years with the agency. The theme for this year’s parade is “Christmas Miracles.”

Also on tap for WWOL’s six-week run are train rides at the park, visits and pictures with Santa at the park’s log house, breakfast with Santa Dec. 1 at the main branch of the Boyd County Public Library, karaoke and pizza with Santa and trolley rides around the park on Dec. 6 and home and business decorating contests.

This will be the 24th year for WWOL, and, there will be a few new things for visitors to look for this year, said Marion Russell, chairman of the WWOL committee.

For one, the “Peace on Earth” display is being “refurbished, rewired and repainted,” and fitted with LED lights, Russell said.

In fact, Russell said, it is the goal of WWOL organizers to have the displays 100 percent LED lighted by next year. One of the reasons for that is energy efficiency; LEDs require only one-seventh the amount of electricity as standard bulbs, he said. That, in turn, means lower electrical costs.

Currently, the WWOL displays are about 85 percent LED lighted, Russell said.

Also, the decorations on Winchester Avenue will have a fresher look this year, Russell said. A sponsor, whom he said had asked to remain anonymous for the time being, donated the money to replace the garland that stretches across the street, and for new Christmas stocking utility pole displays.

According to Russell, last year was the biggest ever for WWOL in terms of visitor comments — one means organizers use to measure attendance.

“We’re hoping it will continue to grow this year,” he said.

Another gauge of attendance is children’s Santa visits, and last year, there were 2,200 of those, said Paula Mayo, who coordinates WWOL for the Ashland Alliance. Of those, 675 were from Ohio, 476 were from West Virginia and 535 were from parts of Kentucky outside of Boyd County, she said.

Russell said it wasn’t unusual for WWOL to record visits from people as far away as Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, especially during the weekend after Thanksgiving.

WWOL is 100 percent contributor-funded, and every penny that’s donated goes straight back into the program, Russell said. He also noted that over the past couple of years, while other organizations have seen contributions decline, WWOL has not.

And, while it’s difficult to gauge how much money WWOL pumps into the local economy, Russell and Mayo both said they had no doubt it was a significant amount.

More importantly, though, the event has become a cherished local tradition.

“We have children who were brought to Winter Wonderland by their parents and now bring their own children,” Russell said.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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